As schools close for the holidays, I’m thinking about how much work struggling readers have done this term – and how much more there is yet to do. When there’s so much ground to make up, it’s essential that learning continues outside the classroom.
A recent article on newamerica.org talks about the role public libraries can play as an extension of school, family and community support. While the article focuses on public libraries as places for older students to engage with new technology and build digital literacy skills, the access to high-quality WiFi, computer workstations and quiet spaces for homework are also rich environments for online learning and extended reading practice.
Libraries and personalized learning
What role can libraries play in personalized learning and reading development? Beyond offering digital reading collections, public libraries are increasingly getting involved in delivering individualized services for reading instruction and practice. The wide availability of browser-based software makes it possible to offer reading programs that can supplement, enhance or work with existing school-based interventions. Leaving aside the discussion about collaboration between schools and public libraries, there are a number of “must haves” on the technology side for instructional software to be used effectively in this way.
Here's my take on the "top five" considerations for instructional technology in public libraries:
1. Easy access: A simple sign-on process enables students to type in a username, password and access the program from any computer in the library. Systems that can run without downloading or storing any data on the local machine make for easier maintenance and security.
2. Self-paced: Students have to be able to come in at any time and resume their work. There are two elements to self-pacing: 1) exercises can be completed in short, self-contained chunks; and 2) mastery-based activities, self-monitoring and corrective feedback enable students to monitor their own work and improve as they progress through the program.
3. Structured: Reading is hard work for struggling learners. While staff can be trained to understand the basics of reading programs being used in their libraries, the reality is that students will need to work independently with minimal assistance. Structured programs that move students forward through a sequence of "chunked" and self-contained activities are best suited to drop-in environments.
4. Engaging: Rewarding completed work and allowing students to track their own progress will help to motivate students to keep going. Points systems, game-based rewards, as well as high-interest text and video content are all ways to get students engaged in self-paced learning and increase their confidence.
5. Data monitoring: Program coordinators need simplified dashboard views of the progress that students are making while working on library computers. Tracking time on task, activities and results in a centralized dashboard provide an efficient way of monitoring and evaluating program success. Data can also be shared with schools through common secure dashboards and data exports.
Just a few years ago, prognosticators were making dire predictions about the demise of libraries as being outdated and irrelevant. Instead, public libraries have seized the opportunity to reinvent and innovate while continuing to act as vibrant learning hubs for their communities. Providing another avenue for struggling readers to build essential foundation skills and confidence is another extension of that critical role, and it's one that offers exciting potential for developing life-long learners.